Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied charges by the former attorney general that she was persistently and inappropriately pressured to drop criminal charges against SNC-Laval and instead to negotiate an apology and reparations. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Prime minister insists no inappropriate pressure applied in SNC-Lavalin case

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a news conference on the controversy surrounding engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and the question of whether it should face criminal charges or be allowed to negotiate a remediation agreement.

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has said she was persistently and inappropriately pressured to not proceed with charges of fraud and bribery against the company for alleged bribery of Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011. Should SNC-Lavalin be found guilty on such charges it would be barred from bidding on government contracts for 10 years. Government officials expressed concern that this could jeopardize 9,000 jobs with the firm in Canada plus thousands of others with suppliers.

Today, Trudeau continued to insist that no inappropriate pressure was applied to stop a criminal prosecution of the company. “In regards to standing up for jobs and defending the integrity of our rule of law, I continue to say that there was no inappropriate pressure.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould told the justice committee she was ‘hounded’ about the SNC-Lavalin criminal prosecution. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Feb. 27, 2019)

Prime minister regrets ‘an erosion of trust’

The prime minister said he wished that Wilson-Raybould had come to him with her concerns about inappropriate pressure but that she did not. He noted there had been “an erosion of trust” between her and his principal secretary that he should have been aware of. Trudeau said it was his style of leadership to be open and that anyone could come to him if they had concerns.

He promised to look into conditions that allowed for this erosion of trust and “to do better” in future. He also said he would ask experts to look into the workings of government to see if change is needed.

There has been discussion about the fact that Wilson-Raybould held two portfolios. As minister of justice she was in the cabinet and participated in all discussions. But as attorney general she oversaw the judiciary, which must be independent from the legislature. There may be a move to have the two positions filled by two separate people.

Trudeau denies cabinet reassignment was retribution

Trudeau also denied Wilson-Raybould’s belief that she was removed from these two portfolios because she refused to reconsider pursuing criminal charges agains SNC-Lavalin and instead seek to negotiate a remediation agreement. He said there are many considerations in shuffling the cabinet and that she was offered the Indigenous Services portfolio. He thought she would be particularly effective in this area. But as an Indigenous woman herself and one long opposed to the controversial Indian Act, she did not want to be in a position to have to apply it and she declined.

She then accepted the Veterans Affairs portfolio but later resigned from that position and decided to stay in the Liberal caucus. 

The prime minister ended his news conference saying he wished to get on with other important matters facing Canada such as the economy, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and the environment and he welcomes the coming election in October when Canadians will decide whether he and the Liberal Party should continue their work.

It is not likely however that the issue is going to go away any time soon. Opposition parties have seized on it and the Conservative leader has called for his resignation.

Watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s news conference about the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

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